SURREY – While the public in Surrey waits on municipal candidates or potential candidates to declared their intentions and to have a chance to judge those candidates two important elements are keeping their attention at the highest. One is over present crime and security situation in Surrey, which is fairly bad especially over the last few days. Shootings, stabbings, dog stabbing, family threatened by knife, family pepper-sprayed, suspicious deaths are just few elements of this story present in the media as the “breaking news” almost every single morning or night. Second is CTV report on Mayor and Staff travels and spending of taxpayers money this time in Puerto Rico and New York, and once again that was without Council approval nor any knowledge that trip will be taken. Although this is not a first time that Mayor and the staff were traveling to remote location without informing Council and discussing use of public funds. Previously Mayor Watts and her assistants traveled to Israel to learn more about their medical industry innovations.
Crime, crime and police forces
Following the latest Police Committee meeting Mayor of Surrey Dianne Watts and Surrey RCMP OIC Bill Fordy announced that over the five-year period Surrey will get additional 95 police officers and presented new numbers on crime fight field since Mayor established her Crime Task Force. This was welcomed and much need news, but it is not quietly true because when we look at the numbers addition over the five-year period is not 95 but 35 police officers because 60 officers were already added through the plan adopted in 2013. Based on population calculations these 35 officers will not do anything exceptional for the citizens of Surrey. Current ration (police officer:100 citizens) is 1:730 and with additional 35 officers over the five-year period in 2019 will lower that ratio to 1:720 if current population influx remains at 1200/month until 2019. That tells us that Surrey RCMP needs far more police officers and stronger force is really wants to fight crime in the city.
Previously Mayor Watts repeatedly said that her administration is not able to fulfill wishes of people for more police officers. According to her at that time calls for 45 more officers are high but acknowledge a need for more. At that time she said:
“We know we need more police resources, there’s not about about that. If I could have another 100, and pay $15 million for that, I would do it tomorrow.”
This statement from January in March transformed itself not in requested 45, but into 35 more police officers than it was planned in 2013. Suddenly Mayor and city found millions of dollars to pay for it. Question is how many more of them we can expect to be added by election day in November.
Former Police Committee Chair and at the moment sole independent Councillor at Surrey City Council Barinder Rasode on Friday issued renewed call for more police officers to be hire immediately. Reason for this call is very troubling security situation in Surrey and if it is not tackled now could produce another murder record high year.
“Public Safety should be our top priority and our city needs additional police resources. The current number is not sufficient to carry-out extensive major crime investigations as well as critical frontline work, such as community policing and responding to service calls. We need to hire 45 new officers this year, in addition to 60 new officers already announced in the five-year plan released last year. This will fulfill our Crime Reduction Strategy commitment and keep promise we made to the public and the RCMP”, said Rasode in her statement.
Just hours later another drive-by shooting happened in Newton area, which is a the moment one of the worse in Surrey when it comes to safety and security situation. Luckily this time nobody was injured, although some damage was done to the residence at 73A Avenue and 145 Street.
As murder of hockey-mom Julie Paskall, horrific mid-day beating and robbery of 72-year-old Gurcharan Singh Gill already mentioned incidents of last week are still unsolved, Councillor Rasode once again points out that City administration has fallen behind in the hiring process what caused crime rate to hike.
“These horrific violent crimes take time and significant resources to solve and prosecute. We have fallen behind in the hiring of officers, and as a result, our crime rate has risen and people are telling me they no longer feel safe. This is not acceptable and needs to be rectified”, said Rasode.
While Mayor Dianne Watts will leave significant positive legacy at the City of Surrey as a result of her 9-year era at the helm, crime will remain one of those not so positive. She will leave very hard and very contagious issue to her successor to try to solve or at least to put in some reasonably accepted borders. One is sure crime will remain black stain on Surrey face for significant time in the future.
Travel, travel and then forget it
Earlier this year CTV discovered that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and her entourage traveled to Israel as part of new project “Innovation Boulevard” which was presented to the public at the last Council meeting and spent more than $27,000 on luxury hotels, business class flights. Mayor at that time didn’t informed her colleagues at the Council that she’s travelling to Israel nor discussed with them reasons for that trip, also Council didn’t approve it and public was stunned to learn about it. This was not a first time that Mayor and Councillors or the staff were travelling to foreign destinations and spent huge sums of money. She and Cllr. Tom Gill spent some $11.000 to travel to Columbia to pitch softball competition.
“I could take a boat across the ocean, but the length of time I’m away doing that wouldn’t be advantageous,” she said regarding her trip to Israel.
Nobody would ask Mayor Watts to travel by boat, but economy class flight was available, video conference system too and better timing of the trip could be taken into the consideration before final decision was made. Now public learned about another trip by the Mayor, Surrey RCMP OIC, Fire Dept. Chief, Surrey City Manager and two criminologists to the Puerto Rico and New York supposedly to learn more about integrated CCTV programs and technologies used in these two regions. According to the media reports this trip cost taxpayers $15,000. During the trip Mayor and her entourage stayed at the second most expensive hotel in Puerto Rico just to come back and dismiss idea of getting similar CCTV system in Surrey.
Once again neither Mayor nor City Manager Vince Lalonde informed Council that this trip is about to be taken and what are the costs related to it. Many Canadian, U.S. and world wide municipalities or higher levels of governmental system are equipped with CCTV systems and were able to inform Surrey officials on details about it in much simpler and much less expensive ways of presentation. Today’s technological possibilities are that advanced that Mayor and her colleagues were probably able to sit in their offices in Surrey and to speak in HD quality technology with anybody over the world on these issues. Skype, conference calls or FTP transferred presentation could and should be used to get informations regarding high-tech CCTV programs used all over the world. According to media reports from the United Kingdom hundreds of their municipalities are using CCTV systems and collecting hundreds of millions of pounds in parking or traffic violations, and for sure City of Surrey has partners in that part of the world who would be willing to share their knowledge without a need to take costly trip to the other side of the world.
“I was quite shocked to learn that this trip that didn’t go through the normal process was to Puerto Rico. I think it’s unfortunate and a waste of taxpayer dollars without having any accountability”, said Cllr. Barinder Rasode last night on CTV.
It seems that the City of Surrey has a great problem with accountability and transparency. New Mayor who will be elected later this year will need to have a “hands on” approach and to tackle it as soon as possible. As Tina Chahal told me last night on Twitter even bigger problem than this one and it is hidden in departmental spending and waste of money which is present over the years and nobody knows how much money was lost in that way.
Three trips mentioned here combined costed Surrey taxpayers some $53,000 and beside some benefits which will come from Innovation Boulevard (sometimes in the future), other benefits are great memories to those who travelled there and seen some parts of the world in which they probably didn’t travelled before. City of Surrey could employed another citizen of this city to work for the city and contribute to the community for annual salary of $53,000 which would benefit far far more than travels to Puerto Rico or Columbia. This kind of spending can’t be justified and it must to stop, hopefully when open data system which is expected later this year travels like this or reckless spending would be easier to discover and that those who took them would be taken responsible for.